It's surprising more people don't go on cruises when they have so much to offer. You can visit so many destinations without having to spend all your time on a train or in a car. Another advantage is that there is something for everyone, so if your daughter wants to spend the holiday by the pool and you want to spend the day seeing the sights, everyone can do what they please and meet up in the evenings. The all-inclusive nature means you don't have to worry about finding somewhere to eat and there are loads of activities, from arts and crafts to fitness classes, so you're never bored. Another myth is that you'll get sea sick, but the ships are so large and have state of the art stabiliser systems so you can hardly feel you're moving. If the worst does happen, there are free sea sickness tablets available on board.
This article is your guide to choosing a cruise and getting ready to set sail!
Step 1 - choose your destination
- If your priorities are sun, warm weather and beaches, the Caribbean is perfect. Caribbean cruises often sail from Florida and offer lots of activities like snorkelling and even swimming with dolphins.
- If you're more interested in history and culture, you could try the Baltic. These cruises take in Russia and Scandinavia and include lots of historical tours.
- For a mixture of the two, try the Mediterranean. Western Med cruises include France, Spain and the Spanish islands, whereas Eastern Med cruises can feature Greece and Egypt in their itineraries. The Mediterranean has something for everyone, from beaches and city tours to historical ruins.
- A recent destination is the Middle East. Sailing from Dubai, these cruises visit Oman, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. This offers a really unique insight into a new culture and allows you to visit places you probably wouldn't see if you weren't on a cruise. There are lots of trips to beautiful mosques, and many people choose to take a 4X4 ride into the desert. Dubai has loads of shops and is a great place to spend some time before or after your cruise.
- For a more unusual destination, take a cruise to China. Again, this offers a unique cultural experience and allows you to see much more of the country than you would if you were taking a traditional hotel holiday.
- Why not take in New England? This is a really popular destination in September, October and November for obvious reasons
- For something really special, cruise to Alaska. This is about as different as you can get from the Caribbean but is a really good way to see this region.
Step 2 - pick your cruise
Once you've got a destination in mind, search some of the cruise company websites for a cruise which you like the look of. Bear in mind:
- The itinerary - this tells you which ports you will visit and for how long
- The time of year - think about if you can get time off work, and bear in mind the weather
- The ship - do you want a big ship with lots of things to do or a smaller, more intimate ship?
- The cruise company - different companies have different levels of formality, services on offer etc so do your research and find out which one suits you
- Family friendly factor - do you want an adults only ship or one with a kids club and children's activities?
Step 3 - book it!
- You will need to choose your cabin. An inside cabin is the cheapest option but means you won't have a window so no sea view. This is a good choice for people who aren't planning on spending much time in the cabin, except when they're asleep obviously! An outside cabin is a similar size but has a sea view so is more pleasant to sit in. The next step up is to pick a cabin with a balcony. Don't worry if this is too pricy for you - you can always sit up on deck if you want to sit outside. If you want more room, a suite is for you. These are larger cabins, often with a separate sitting area. Suite guests often get other priorities like speedy boarding, butler service or use of a lounge on the ship. Also bear in mind the position of the cabin. If you want peace and quiet, go for a lower deck which has just cabins and no facilities like pools or restaurants.
- You will have a choice of early or late dinner sitting and may also be able to choose your table size. It's traditional on a cruise to eat with other people on a large table but most companies now offer smaller tables for just your couple or family, though it's best to request it in advance to avoid embarrassment on the first night. Many companies also now offer a service where you can eat at any time you like, but be aware this may mean waiting for a table as there will be a limited number dedicated to this service and that the evening's entertainment is structured around the set sitting times, so you might miss the shows. It also means you miss out on having your own dedicated waiter for the cruise duration, which I think is a key part of the experience. They get to know you really well and it's always a shame saying goodbye to the waiter on the last night!
- You may have a choice of whether to book flights with the company or not. Always do some research as we tend to buy our flights directly from the airline and have always found it to be more convenient, as we can fly from the airport in our home city, and sometimes cheaper, than the flights the cruise companies offer.
- Check how far the port is from the airport and whether you will need to arrange a transfer to get to the ship. You can often do this through the cruise company, but again it might actually be cheaper to get a taxi
Step 4 - plan what to do in port
This might seem a bit over the top but you will get so much more out of your cruise if you do some planning before you go. Research the ports and find out how far they are from the main city, as often the journey can be up to one hour. You then need to decide whether you are going to get yourself around or take an excursion. These are trips organised by the cruise company. If you want to take one, make sure you book well in advance as there will be very limited availability once you get on the ship. A word of warning is that these are often very expensive compared to what you would pay to do the same trip by yourself. In some ports, like Bahrain, it is very difficult to get around yourself and an excursion is really a must-do, but in others, like Athens, there is no need. We got a train from the port and looked around the ruins and museum at our own pace and for a fraction of the price of the ship excursion. Use a search engine to search for the name of each port and find the views of other cruisers on what there is to do and how easy it is to get around yourself.
Step 5 - Get ready to go
You will be sent lots of information by the company telling you exactly what to pack but here is a general guide:
- Comfortable clothes and shoes for exploring ports - some trips involve a lot of walking so be prepared. If you are going to destinations with certain cultural clothing customs, like the Middle East, check whether you will need to take any considerations, such as covering hair, and be prepared with headscarves etc.
- A wallet to carry your cruise card. This is issued at the start of the cruise and acts as your room key, as well as a card used to make any purchases on board, including casino credit, drinks and items in the shops
- Formal clothes for the formal dinners. The level of formality varies from company to company so check their website for the dress code. Don't let this intimidate you. Dressing up on a cruise is just for fun and nobody takes it too seriously.
- If you're into your fitness, bring your gym kit. Almost all ships now have a gym and running track.
- Every ship has a pool so bring your swimming stuff.
- A secure bag to carry out in port. You won't need to take too much off the ship with you so make sure you have a small bag which you can keep close to your body to keep it safe from pick-pockets, particularly if you are visiting pickpocketing hotspots like Rome.
I hope I've told you everything you need to know to book your next cruise. Enjoy it!